February may be over, but we’re still in peak cold and flu season. You might associate colds or the flu with December and January, but according to the FDA, flu season begins as early as October and last as late as May. While it’s true that instances of the flu may peak in the colder months, people get sick all year round. And it’s not just the flu you’ve got to worry about. Here in New York, there’s been a stomach bug going around the last few weeks. And, yes, coronavirus has people everywhere on high alert.
The office, the classroom, and public transit are some of the most common places for people to get sick during cold and flu season. As you navigate the risk of having to leave your house this season—and anxiously await your employer’s or school’s official policy regarding coronavirus—here are five simple steps you can take everyday to stay healthy.
1. Wash. Your. Hands.
Sure, this sounds like a no-brainer. But considering that only a disturbing 31 percent of men and 65 percent of women wash their hands after using the restroom, it bears repeating. According to the Centers for Disease Control, washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs and minimize your chances of getting sick. So, wash your hands frequently—not just after you use the restroom. Before and after meals. After using public transportation (especially after using public transportation). Make washing your hands the first thing you do when you get home at night, and as soon as you arrive at school or the office.
It’s not just enough to wash your hands often; it’s important to wash correctly. Another alarming report found that 97 percent of people don’t wash their hands properly, making it likely that they’ll continue to spread germs. If you’re not sure whether you’re washing your hands the right way, the CDC provides a set of helpful guidelines:
2. Sanitize everything.
An offshoot of washing your hands, doing your best to keep everything you touch clean can’t hurt when everyone around you is getting sick. Think of how many things you touch in a given day, especially at the office. Your keyboard, your mouse, your phone—and that’s just at your desk. Speaking of phones, the CDC recommends sanitizing your smartphone as soon as you finish wiping your hands , which makes sense considering how often we touch our phones.
The efficacy of Lysol, Clorox, and other common disinfectants on killing coronavirus is still being studied (although experts believe these products might). But coronavirus isn’t the only thing you have to worry about during cold and flu season, and these products do work on many other types of bacteria. Keep your preferred sanitizing wipes handy wherever you go: at home, in the office, and on-the-go.
3. Keep your immune system healthy.
Your immune system is your body’s first and most important defense against any virus. While prevention is important (and a healthy immune system is certainly part of prevention), if you do become sick, your body’s ability to fight it off is just as essential. Therefore, anything you can do to boost your immune system will help. Some suggestions include:
4. Minimize physical contact with people in the office.
Okay, so you should never be maximizing physical contact with people in the office to begin with; it’s a place of work, after all. But even something as professional as a handshake can perpetuate the spread of germs.There’s nothing wrong with avoiding handshakes during this time, as long as you do so respectfully. Some employers may even promote a soft “anti-handshake” policy! If you’re meeting with clients or a professor and you feel uncomfortable refusing a handshake, use hand sanitizer the first chance you can do so discreetly without offending them. And if you have a coworker or two that you have a good enough rapport with to greet with a hug, this is the time to avoid that. Nothing wrong with a friendly “thumbs up” from across the room!
5. For goodness’ sake, stay home!
We live in a culture that often discourages people from working from home and sometimes seems to prioritize “productivity” over personal well-being. That attitude is certainly changing, but not fast enough, as Occupational Health & Safety Magazine has found that four out of five people still refuse to stay home when they’re sick. You’ve earned the right to rest and take care of yourself when you’re sick. But let’s say, for a moment, that you’re a machine who can power through the fever hallucinations. Stay home! Coming to work while you’re sick puts your coworkers at risk of catching whatever you have; it’s insensitive, and most of your colleagues would prefer it if you didn’t come in.
If you’re concerned about missing too much work or using your time, talk to your manager about working from home. Most companies do allow some flexibility around working remotely. Even though those policies are highly dependent on your industry and employer, there’s no company that will deny you sick time when you clearly need it. If you’ve got anything more than a sniffle, the responsible thing to do is to stay home.
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